Oregon in 1851—this is not your usual Western movie territory. The differentiation in territory, as wide-open grasslands and mesas rising from the orange desert are traded for tall trees and coastlines, is carried on through the tone and pacing of the trailer for Jacques Audiard’s new film The Sisters Brothers. Genre-bending films are nothing new and the Western genre has plenty, from the recent horror-western Bone Tomahawk, to the also recent acid-Western Slow West. Yet, something about The Sisters Brothers suggests that we have never seen a Western quite like this.
The trailer sees Eli and Charlie Sisters, played by John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix, setting out to kill a prospector who has crossed their boss. The kindling that starts the narrative’s fire is rather generic, but it seems like this film is more interested in what takes place between the plot—something is always pushing these men onwards, but what seems most intriguing is what keeps them in place. Reilly and Phoenix’s characters seem as hopeless and quixotic as they are dangerous. This duo of assassins fires off jests as much as they do lead, and their brotherly relationship allows for the humor to come off as genuine; for nothing is as natural as a joke between siblings. Despite their ineffectual natures, these men are killers—ruthless ones, even—which is best shown when Phoenix eerily states, “You are not gonna like what happens next” through a forced, creepy smile to a woman with a bloodied head. The foils to these killers are played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed, who seem to be the mirror opposites of the slovenly Sisters brothers. Well put together and well-spoken, they do their best to outwit and outshoot the predators that hunt them. Only in the final product will we be able to see the ultimate outcome.
The cinematography is quite striking, as the trailer opens on a jet-black night where only muzzle flashes tear at the veneer of a void-like, eternal darkness. For as striking and original as the cinematography looks, the key landscape shots of a breathless expanse, men on horseback and the close-up cycling of a six shooter’s action are also on display. The Sisters Brothers seems to balance the known with the unknown, the zany with the macabre. Life in a wild place is full of darkness and death, but it appears that Jacques Audiard has found the comedy in the futility of existence in such a lawless time.
The Sisters Brothers was adapted by Audiard and Thomas Bidegain from Patrick Dewitt’s acclaimed novel of the same name, and is set for release later this year via Annapurna Pictures. It is the follow-up to Audiard’s Palme D’Or-winning film, Dheepan. Check out the trailer below.